NHL Lockout: Why Donald Fehr Is Someone the Owners and Fans Should Fear

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NHL Lockout: Why Donald Fehr Is Someone the Owners and Fans Should Fear
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

"Well I won't back down, no I won't back down. You could stand me up at the gates of hell but I won't back down."

Tom Petty made that powerful proclamation in his classic 1989 tune, "I Won't Back Down".

Now, as the National Hockey League stands at the gates of hell, enduring a lockout that has iced the first two weeks of the regular season, there's someone else who won't back down.

His name is Donald Fehr.

As executive director of the NHLPA, he's someone who should be taken quite seriously by NHL owners and fans.

The reason? Past experience.

This is a man who has already shut down a professional sport for an extended period of time. Fehr is such a fierce negotiator that when he was union chief of the Major League Baseball Players Association, he had the players quit about two-thirds of the way into the 1994 season.

The World Series was cancelled. And now, the 2012-2013 NHL season could meet the same fate.

How long will the game be in the deep freeze? Nobody knows.

But these are the facts:

Do you think Donald Fehr has the best interest of the players in mind?

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A business generating $3.3 billion in revenue has closed its doors.

A business that's in the early stages of a 10-year, $2 billion dollar television agreement with NBC is off the air.

A business that created the Winter Classic, a midseason marquee event that puts the sport squarely in the public eye, may not be played. It could be the winter of our discontent.

Apparently, that suits Mr. Fehr just fine.

"Gonna stand my ground, won't be turned around And I'll keep this world from draggin' me down. Gonna stand my ground and I won't back down." 

Right now, the players and owners are miles apart on the financials—and for good reason. The NHL rank and file received 57 percent of hockey-related revenue as part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that expired Sept. 15. The owners, represented by Commissioner Gary Bettman, want to bring that number to perhaps as low as 47 percent.

Fehr's not going for it, 100 percent. 

Just as Petty belted it out, the players are standing their ground as well. They want the owners to solve their problems by reaching into their deep pockets. There won't be any 24 percent rollback offers. And it appears Fehr's troops won’t be offering anything for the foreseeable future.

In The Hockey News, Fehr reiterated his side's position:

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

"The entire position seems to be that this is concessionary bargaining, and as a matter of natural law or the way the universe is ordered somehow, the players should be willing to take severe reductions in their compensation and not have a free market for their salaries and not be able to go look for a job as you, or I or anyone else in the Western World can, and it has to be that way. And the only point in the negotiation is how far/how fast are players going to make concessions."

For anyone who believes the end to this lockout will result in the players cracking under the pressure, there’s almost no chance of that happening. Fehr helped set their union up and, as the man in charge, it’s made him bulletproof. 

Commissioner Bettman knows it. The owners know it. The fans know it.

"Well I know what's right, I got just one life. In a world that keeps on pushin' me around
But I'll stand my ground and I won't back down."

As if you haven't guessed already, Fehr won't be pushed around. He remains determined and defiant as the work stoppage rolls on. According to SI.com, here's what he had to say about games being cancelled so far:

"The decision to cancel the first two weeks of the NHL season is the unilateral choice of the NHL owners," NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr said in a statement. "If the owners truly cared about the game and the fans, they would lift the lockout and allow the season to begin on time while negotiations continue. A lockout should be the last resort in bargaining, not the strategy of first resort," he added. "For nearly 20 years, the owners have elected to lock out the players in an effort to secure massive concessions. Nevertheless, the players remain committed to playing hockey while the parties work to reach a deal that is fair for both sides. We hope we will soon have a willing negotiating partner." 

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Hope is a good thing.

But if you're an NHL owner, you better dig your heels in on your expensive shoes, because this lockout could result in a long, drawn-out war that Fehr has no intention of losing. Millions will be lost in ticket sales, parking revenues and arena concessions. If you're an NHL fan, you better not hold your breath. You've already lost a bunch of games and Fehr intends to keep your favorite sport in the penalty box for an indefinite period. The faceoff between owners and players means you won't be seeing any faceoffs anytime soon. Yes, life sucks without pucks. Unfortunately, you''ll just have to wait and see how all this hockey-related ridiculousness (my take on HRR) plays out. You have no control over the situation. But one man does.

And he's holding a professional sport hostage in the process.

Back in March, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared in his first inaugural address:

"The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself."

Nearly 80 years later, the only thing the NHL owners and fans have to fear, is Fehr himself.

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